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Boozin’ on a Budget

I fall squarely on the frugal end of the spectrum when it comes to money matters. However, I am by no means a square and know how to have a good time—but on a budget, of course!

Here are some of my tried-and-true methods to keep my alcohol spending roughly in between some of life’s other necessities, like air (free) and international plane tickets (getting prohibitively more expensive by the day):

Drink less
The less you drink, the less you spend (duh). I have gotten better at this as I’ve gotten older and am less excited to spend the next day hungover and watching reality show marathons (sometimes I’m astonished at my maturity). I make plans with friends that don’t involve bars or restaurants, and have gotten really good at nursing one drink all night or drinking copious amounts of water (something I should do anyways). Of course, just a few years ago these suggestions would be anathema to me, which is why you can then employ any of the following:


Beloved by college students everywhere, I have often utilized this technique to save some dough at concert venues, major league baseball games, and New York City bars. Living the post-college dream of residing in Manhattan, I developed the perfect method to kill time on my subway ride and arrive at my destination with a slight buzz. The Subway Drinking Game was quite simple:

(1) Fill water bottle with alcoholic beverage of choice
(2) Board train at 181st St
(3) Take one sip when subway doors open

Repeat step (3) until final destination. This could get dangerous if I ended up on the local subway, which stopped every 10 blocks for the entire length of Manhattan. But, inevitably, I’d wind up at my friend’s doorstep in Greenwich Village at the ideal state of inebriation and desperately having to pee. Variations of the game are endless, like on road trips through Nebraska (but, not if you’re driving!).


Beer, wine, champagne, Bloody Marys. Obviously, this is a no-brainer for potlucks, picnics and restaurants that charge nominal corkage fees. But if you’re really stingy and don’t mind being just a little bit sketchy, you can also bring your own alcohol to bars, restaurants, music festivals that charge exorbitant amounts of money for a Coors Light, etc. Remember—flasks are your friends—to doctor up a soda purchased at said locale or to take furtive nips in the bathroom. I even had a roommate who brought mini-bottles of coffee liqueur for his cup of joe to the dive bar that served $2 breakfasts. Brilliant.


Drink (cheap) beer at the bar
If there is a drink in front of me, I drink it and then want to keep drinking (social crutch, probably). Which is why I eschew mixed drinks, in favor of beer. And often, cheap beer. Hipsters have made PBR cool (or ironic, or both), but there are plenty of decent yellow water varieties (I’m partial to Hamm’s) plus an ever-growing list of microbrews. Almost always, beer is cheaper than wine or cocktails, and you get more of it! That’s value, people. However, I’m a sucker for libations with ginger beer or infused liquor—I’m all for splurging on one of those, but that’s when I follow the first tip (drink less, in case you forgot).


Cash only
Whether you’re following all or none of the above tips, this one comes in handy. It’s been said before, but pay for drinks in cash, round by round. And, if possible, bring a set amount of cash ($20 is usually my set amount). You will be less tempted to buy the entire bar tequila shots and you’ll know exactly how much you’ve spent. When the cash is gone, order a water and revel in your maturity—your bank balance and your liver will thank you.


Dana Beck likes cheap beer and treehouses. She lives in Oregon, where she has learned to re-wash plastic sandwich bags. Photo: Shutterstock/piyato


22 Comments / Post A Comment

pain (#661)

BYO to a bar? I hope you are joking with this one. That is just stealing! They aren’t just selling you alcohol at the bar, they are selling you alcohol to drink at their establishment. If you can’t afford to by alcohol at the bar, either drink water or stay home. Don’t BYO.

i have often prescribed illicit drinking in these here comment sections so I am fully on board with this article. I should note there have been consequences to my behaviour on at least two occasions:

1. stopped by undercover cops on the subway and given warnings
impact: pretty negligible. we now hide our drinks when the train pulls into the station. also if some nondescript guy were to stop me and ask me what i’m drinking, i will now assume he’s a cop rather than assume he is hitting on me. and perhaps respond with something other than “WHATS IT TO YA”

2. had my entire group of friends cut off from the bar at a bowling alley because i poured booze into my soda.
impact: significant. i can never show my face at that bowling alley again.

@redheaded&crazy so you know, learn from my mistakes

@redheaded&crazy What mistakes? It sounds like you’ve got it nailed down.

Another Subway Drinker

But if you’re really stingy and don’t mind being just a little bit sketchy, you can also bring your own alcohol to bars, restaurants, music festivals that charge exorbitant amounts of money for a Coors Light, etc. Remember—flasks are your friends—to doctor up a soda purchased at said locale or to take furtive nips in the bathroom.

No. Do not do this at bars or restaurants. If you can’t afford alcoholic drinks, drink something else or stay home. [edit: what Pain said!]

Slutface (#53)

If you bring your own booze to a bar, you’re a jerk.

Brenda@twitter (#1,451)

Another cheap booze tip (besides “move to England”) is cider! Especially in the summer. It’s often cheaper and stronger than beer.

As other have said, I feel like “frequent restaurants with BYO policies” is probably a better tip than “sneak booze into bars” because it’s just super-rude. (I feel like non-booze-serving places is a bit of a grey area. I don’t do it often but I definitely have done this at movie theatres.)

@Brenda@twitter Move to Germany! Land where beer is cheaper than water.

Everyone is all up in arms about sneaking booze into bars-ha! Though I now consider myself a bit too old for this to be cute, I did this all the time when I was young-airplane bottles are the friends of the broke. If you had told me I was a jerk, I wouldn’t have given a shit. If you had told me it was rude-again, wouldn’t have given a shit. If you had told me you didn’t want to be my friend, too late-I would have thought you weren’t very much fun anyway. Sometimes people having a lot of fun don’t really care about your social rules OR your opinions, and sometimes assholes really DO have more fun.

I should also note that at the particular bar I constantly did this, I knew the owner, he was a horrible man, and they watered down the drinks you did buy. You do know that just because you have enough money to open a business, you’re not necessarily a good person, right? Good shows, though.

I also broke into a community pool last weekend at like 3am; do you guys want me to go back and pay for that? It’s STEALING.

@Jake Reinhardt maybe I’m just saying this because I did it a lot more when I was young, but I feel like probably it’s one of those things that’s way more common as a broke ass student and then you kind of grow up and have a job and realize the questionable ethics of it or whatever.

If I felt I could get away with it, I would still sneak booze into sporting events because $10 for a tall can makes me want to throw myself over the railing. And I wouldn’t feel too jerky about it neither! But given my track record, I’m forced to simply drink in the park beforehand. Sigh.

@redheaded&crazy I definitely agree. But I would and have snuck drinks into sporting events as well as the circus. My ethics, in those cases, are firmly upheld by not buying exorbitantly priced horrible beers.

Have rich friends who like to buy rounds of shots.

Robin (#1,320)

One trick I’ve learned – U-Brew! Well, it’s more like “You brew it, I’ll bottle and pay nothing for it.”

Alcohol in BC is stupidly expensive. $12 for a 6-pack of beer, $12 for a bottle of wine.. you get the idea. I pay about a third of that, buy 25 litres at a time, and drink for next to nothing for months! The Vancouver company I use – http://www.westcoastubrew.com/

Plus, when you’ve got a constant supply of wine and beer at your place, you’ve always got something to offer and you don’t have second thoughts about bringing a bottle over when visiting a friend.

@Robin Such a good suggestion! I’ve done this as well, for a while coupons for wine bottling were the only reason I kept my groupon subscription, because the discounts are insane. But then I started getting overwhelmed by stupid emails. But anyway, wine bottling is great! I got 30 bottles of white last May/June and I’ve still got 3 left! Going to pick up 25 bottles of red this weekend :D

@Robin Is there an American equivalent to this? Because I’m already sold.

bgprincipessa (#699)

@Jake Reinhardt Seconded to that. Inquiring minds want – need – to know.

Robin (#1,320)

@Jake Reinhardt Good question! I just assumed that this would be available in the US, but 5 minutes of googling/yelping and I haven’t found anything similar in NYC. Maybe you have laws against these operations? (which would be hilarious, since BC has liquor laws that make Iran seem modern).

BYO: YES!!!!!

The Mrs and I always have a stock of Captain Morgan (100 proof) or some nice 12-13.5% ABV boxed wine for our various endeavors. Will we pay $5 for a large drink at the movie theaters? You betcha….as long as we have 16 oz of rum to put in it.

I hate to join the greek chorus here but… don’t you DARE bring your own booze to a bar. If you can’t afford to pay for a drink (and tip), then you CANT AFFORD TO GO OUT. Drink at home! Bringing outside drinks to a bar will get you banned from the bar, not to mention makes you a total asshole. I can’t tell you how many “regulars” I’ve seen get banned because they treat the place like their living room. Even if you don’t like the bar owners (why would you go there anyway), you’re just stealing money from the server/bartender, who’s probably on just as much a shoestring budget as you (or more). Seriously. You can’t imagine how much of a trashy asshole this makes you.

@Trish Greene@facebook oh, don’t worry-I didn’t like the bartenders, either-but you missed the part about the good shows. And for everyone that thinks it makes you a trashy asshole, there’s someone that thinks you’re an uptight prude. Opinions: we all have them. Namecalling: it works both ways, and makes you sound like a weiner.

Kiki@twitter (#1,460)

Okay, I’m a bartender so I feel a professional obligation to weigh in on the BYO situation.

Bringing outside booze to a bar isn’t just a dick move/trashy/stealing from the establishment or server, it is also illegal. And in my state, the bartender is responsible for such things. If the liquor control board does a random inspection and finds that you have a flask or water bottle of cocktail or ANYTHING on you and I’m behind the bar, I get a very large fine and lose my mixologist permit, which means I LOSE MY JOB.

So please don’t fuck me over, alright?
Keep your flask in your car and go take nips off it when you take a smoke break.

I do, however, think it’s perfectly acceptable to bring booze to venues that are not specifically alcohol-centered like sporting events, movie theatres, (some) concerts, zoos, street fairs, etc. I do it all the time!

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